Premiering tonight, Thursday, September 27th on ABC at 8pm (though it's been available for streaming online for the past two weeks), the military series "Last Resort" isn't just the most promising new broadcast network drama of the season, its quietly the most alarming. While NBC's new post-apocalyptic drama "Revolution" presents a near-future world in which order has collapsed following the disappearance of technology, the poised-on-global-disaster present of "Last Resort" suggests a world about to tumble into chaos, a scenario in which a group is poised on the precipice of destruction with enough ammo to do some permanent damage.
Creator Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") described his new series as potentially "pre-apocalyptic," and the rapid escalation of world affairs in the first episode suggests the tense reality of that scenario (though technically we've always been living in a pre-apocalyptic world). Set on the USS Colorado, a nuclear submarine, the show sketches out a crew of men and a minority of women serving under Captain Marcus Chaplain (Andre Braugher), including his faithful XO Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) and navigator Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), whose father is an admiral. They're just finishing up an assignment to pick up a group of SEALs on a mission they can't discuss but that doesn't seem to have gone well when they get an order to fire on Pakistan.
It's an authenticated order, but one that hasn't come from D.C. but from a secondary network built as a back-up should central command be destroyed. TV signals are coming in clear from the States — there's no sign of chaos, there's been no declaration of war. When Chaplain tries to confirm the order, he's told to step down, and then the sub crew find themselves being fired upon by another U.S. ship, barely escaping with their lives and heading to a nearby island, the fictional Sainte Marina, to take over a NATO communications facility there and to attempt to find out what's going on.
"Last Resort" has the same reality bending you'd find in typical military action movie, but what's disturbingly plausible about the action that unfolds in the pilot. ones that finally leave the crew of the Colorado taking control of the island and declaring a 200 mile exclusion zone around it, is how quickly things can escalate to disaster when everyone's wielding big guns. The military structures depicted in the show are built around obeying orders — structures are in place so that something coming from the top should be confirmed and acted on without question. But it's clear from the glimpses of mainland life we get on the series that the U.S. government's split into factions and that the President's facing impeachment — an order coming from the right place might not have the right authority, but who's to stop it from coming down the line?
Like Showtime's excellent and now Emmy-lauded returning series "Homeland," "Last Resort" is threaded through with a suspicion of the power structures we have in place, ones that are affected by personal ambition and politics as much as they are by thoughts of the greater good. And Braugher, in this first hour, does a fine job of seeming, as Speedman's character puts it, "just crazy enough."
He's a figure of apparently trustworthy, paternal authority who's willing to launch an attack at the U.S. to prove how serious he is, and a guy who seems a little too willing to consider setting up a new country on a commandeered island with his high-grade weapons in tow to be entirely suited to the role of leader. While "Revolution" has its resistance of rebels fighting to restore the U.S. from the militia-ruled kingdom the post-collapse world has become, one headed up by a former military man, "Last Resort" has its central Navy officer all too alarmingly ready to shrug off the authority he no longer thinks speaks for him. Amazing how much easier it is to kick everything to the curb when you have a few nukes on your side.